Sunday, February 25, 2018
Opinion

Steinle: Does Clearwater need a 'brand'?

I'm amazed when I mention Clearwater to individuals who don't live anywhere near here how often they will respond with, "Oh, I've been to Clearwater. Great beach." Or even if they've never been here, they will know something about Clearwater: "Winter the dolphin!" they'll say, or "The Hulkster!"

Clearwater is internationally known for its wide sugar-sand beach, one of the top destinations on the gulf coast even before the construction of the iconic BeachWalk and new resorts. But there is a lot more than the beach that draws people and attention to Clearwater and establishes its reputation.

It's the spring training home of the Philadelphia Phillies. It has the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, home of Winter the dolphin and location for the movie Dolphin Tale and its upcoming sequel. It hosts big events each year that draw people from all over the country, including the Clearwater Jazz Holiday and the Superboats National Championship.

It has three waterfronts — on Tampa Bay, the Intracoastal Waterway and the Gulf of Mexico — and all the watersports that can be pursued on a body of water. It has Sunsets at Pier 60, a daily sunset festival on Clearwater Beach that rivals the longstanding one in Key West.

It has Ruth Eckerd Hall, an event venue with a Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation design that attracts world-class talent. It has a unique curved bridge over the Intracoastal Waterway that has won design awards.

And we wouldn't want to leave out this claim to fame: Clearwater, home of the original Hooters.

The Pinellas tourism agency Visit St. Pete-Clearwater invests millions in promoting the tourism amenities of the area, its creative advertisements and splashy videos helping those of us who live here realize that to outsiders, Clearwater looks like an exotic, exciting place.

Yet despite all this, Clearwater officials feel that the city doesn't have enough of an image, enough of a "brand," and that perceptions of Clearwater are fragmented. So the city is preparing to launch a $100,000 branding effort that will include development of a new logo, perhaps a slogan to replace the dated "Sparkling Clearwater" (though the mayor still loves to say it) and videos to promote different aspects of the city. The goal, according to a city document: "to develop a community identity."

Huh? I thought it already had one.

This week the Clearwater City Council discussed hiring Nashville-based North Star Destination Strategies to develop the branding campaign. "There's a feeling we really need to capture those things about us that people find most attractive, and then take advantage of that," City Manager Bill Horne said.

Horne says this initiative isn't being launched because Clearwater also is known as the international religious headquarters of the Church of Scientology.

North Star would spend months researching what people think about Clearwater, meshing its own ideas with those of residents and other groups that also promote Clearwater — Visit St. Pete-Clearwater, city public relations consultant Imagine, Clearwater's two chambers of commerce. It would develop strategies for disseminating the "community identity" eventually adopted by the City Council.

In 2011, Dunedin launched a $73,000 branding campaign that became so controversial that more than a year later, city officials were still trying to finalize it. Residents and officials spent months hung up in debates over what the city logo should look like (what color should the letters in D-U-N-E-D-I-N be?) and whether a proposed city slogan adequately described Dunedin's charms.

Clearwater is bigger, its challenges greater and its various interest groups more divided than in Dunedin. This could be fun to watch.

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